The Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 are two of the flagship events of motor racing. Both are the longest races in IndyCar and NASCAR, respectively, and while they are two sides to the same coin, are also totally different in nature.
The Indy 500 is the oldest and fastest race in the world, a 220-mile-an-hour daredevil run that is contested in the heat of the day on what normally is a hot Sunday afternoon marking the start of the summer. The Coke 600 is a different challenge: a 4-plus-hour marathon that starts in the twilight and finishes late in the evening, with yellow flags and occasional rain often pushing the race to into the early hours of the next day.
Run as standalone events, both races represent the biggest test in their respective disciplines. Taking on both races in the same day is the ultimate test in talent, fitness, and mental toughness.
Four drivers have accepted the challenge – the late John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Kurt Busch. In 2024, Kyle Larson will add his name to that list, having announced Thursday that he will run the Indy 500 next year as part of a collaboration between Rick Hendrick and Arrow McLaren.
The 30-year-old Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup champion, brings an intriguing resume to the effort. As one of the most diversely talented drivers in the world, Larson has shown that he can adapt to any car or racing surface.
Arrow McLaren will be a contender to win the Indy 500 in 2023 with 2016 winner Alexander Rossi, Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist in its stable. Add Larson to that group in 2024, and the possibilities become even stronger.
It will be the massive test for one of the sport’s ultimate wheelmen, but what are some of the greatest “Doubles” in history? Let’s look at the list:
Tony Stewart, 2001
Growing up in Indiana and cutting his teeth on some of the state’s famed short tracks, it seemed natural that Smoke would gravitate towards open-wheel racing. The Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 1996 and the IndyCar champion a year later, he seemed like he was on an opern-wheel path for the foreseeable future.
Instead, Stewart moved to NASCAR in 1999 and ran his first Double that May. Two years later, he posted the greatest Double to date. Starting seventh at Indianapolis for Chip Ganassi Racing, Stewart took the lead at Lap 134 and led for the next 13 circuits.
With the race delayed by rain and the clock ticking, it looked like Stewart might have to give up his car to relief driver Richie Hearn, but the race finished just in time and Stewart headed to Charlotte with a sixth-place finish.
Landing in the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield just 17 minutes before the command to start engines, Stewart climbed into his car, which had been moved back to the 43rd starting position as a penalty for missing the driver’s meeting.
That didn’t matter to Stewart, who moved his way up through the field and, just over four hours later, crossed the finish line in third. To date Stewart is the only driver to complete the entire 1,100 miles of racing.
Kurt Busch, 2014
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion, had made it clear that running the Indy 500 was on his bucket list, and in 2014 he got his chance with Andretti Autosport, a perennial favorite to bring home the Borg-Warner Trophy.
After qualifying 12th during Time Trials on Sunday, Busch had a setback the next day when he got loose in Turn 2 and had a huge hit with the outside wall. His car was repaired in time for race day, and he ran in the top 15 all day long before taking advantage of some late attrition to move up to sixth place and earn Rookie of the Year honors.
Later that night in Charlotte, Busch had an engine failure and finished 40th.
After signing with Joe Gibbs Racing at the start of 1999 to run in the Cup Series, Stewart was still committed to an Indy 500 run.
Starting on the outside of the eighth row, Stewart finished the race in ninth place, four laps down of winner Kenny Brack. Despite suffering hydration and nutrition issues in the Coca-Cola 600, Stewart was able to gut it out and finish all 400 laps and finish fourth. Stewart credits the lessons he learned that day as one of the reasons he ran so well two years later.
Robby Gordon, 2002
Gordon is the driver who has attempted the Double the most, five times, and of those, 2002 was his best effort. After starting 11th at Indy in a John Menard-backed entry, Gordon finished on the lead lap in eighth place, just over six seconds back from winner Helio Castroneves.
Later that night, he nearly joined Stewart as the only driver to go the distance in both races, but he ultimately finished one lap down in 16th place.
John Andretti, 1994
Like Stewart, Andretti looked to follow his famous racing family in making a name in open wheel racing, starting his first Indy 500 in 1988 after a career spent racing sprint cars and midgets on Midwestern short tracks.
Though he never found huge success in one particular racing series, Andretti was a versatile driver who won races in both IndyCar and the NASCAR Cup Series, as well as a Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona overall win in 1989. He also finished sixth overall at LeMans in 1988 while teaming up with cousin Michael and uncle Mario.
By 1994, Andretti was a full-time driver in NASCAR, and that year became the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day Marathon. Driving for his godfather A.J. Foyt at Indy, Andretti started 10th and finished in the same position, four laps behind winner Al Unser Jr.
Andretti completed 220 laps later that afternoon in Charlotte, but a crankshaft issue ended his day in the 36th position.
It remains to be seen if Larson will be able to exceed any of these efforts, but it doesn’t sound like it will be for a lack of trying as Larson has his sights set clearly on winning an Indianapolis 500 someday. Given Larson’s talent and level of commitment, it’s safe to call him a solid bet.
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